Elite Navy SEALs who served in Iraq alongside Special Operations Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher told investigators they viewed him as an “evil” leader who committed what they considered to be obvious war crimes, according to newly released video and text messages obtained by The New York Times.
Gallagher faced dozens of war crime charges stemming from his 2017 deployment to Iraq, but he was convicted in July on just one charge of posing for photographs with a dead ISIS fighter. In November, President Donald Trump cleared Gallagher of punishment and gave him a promotion.
Video interviews with the SEALs he commanded, however, reveal disturbing and gruesome details of Gallagher’s alleged behavior, the Times reported Friday. Members of Gallagher’s platoon, SEAL Team 7, said he killed or aimed to kill innocent civilians and murdered the semi-conscious prisoner with whom he posed for pictures.
Special Operator First Class Craig Miller broke down while describing what he witnessed, saying of Gallagher, “The guy is freaking evil.” At another point, Miller said his fellow platoon members invented tactics to try “to protect the civilian population from Eddie.”
“You could tell he was perfectly OK with killing anybody,” Special Operator First Class Corey Scott said. Another member, Special Operator First Class Joshua Vriens, said Gallagher was “toxic.” Still another called him a “psychopath.”
As a trained medic and sniper, Gallagher was initially seen as a mentor figure and something of a legend, the SEALs said in an accompanying New York Times documentary on Hulu.
They later grew concerned. At one point, Gallagher allegedly bragged about killing four women, saying he had fired “warning shots” first, even though one SEAL told investigators he’d “never seen Eddie fire warning shots.”
Another SEAL told investigators he once saw Gallagher “take a shot at probably a 12-year-old kid.”
When SEALs captured the injured ISIS fighter, Gallagher allegedly drove “miles” to the scene where he was being held. The chief then brought his medical bag over to the already sedated teen, and, according to the SEALs, began stabbing him in the neck. An unidentified person turned off a helmet camera recording the incident in the moments before the captive died.
The Times received multiple pictures of Gallagher holding the dead teen by the hair, as if he were a hunting trophy. An email Gallagher reportedly sent refers to one of the photos and brags that he “got him with my hunting knife.”
Gallagher dismissed the accusations in a statement issued to the Times through his attorney.
“My first reaction to seeing the videos was surprise and disgust that they would make up blatant lies about me, but I quickly realized that they were scared that the truth would come out of how cowardly they acted on deployment,” he said.
Although the SEALs tried to talk to Gallagher about his behavior, the conversation went nowhere.
As one SEAL put it, “It came down to: ‘I’m the chief. I do what I want.’”
Once they returned home in September 2017, some of the platoon members demanded their superiors take action, threatening to go to the media with what they’d seen. Out of concern that he might try to pressure witnesses, Gallagher was placed in the brig while he awaited trial but, in June, proceedings were upended by witness testimony. Scott, who had made disparaging remarks about Gallagher on tape, said he had murdered the captive ― not Gallagher. He made his shocking assertion after securing immunity from criminal prosecution.
Gallagher retired from the Navy with full honors in November, after his promotion from Trump.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said Gallagher was pardoned by Trump. The president instead intervened to prevent Gallagher from facing punishment for his actions.